Best Lump Charcoal

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You keep hearing about lump charcoal, but what is it and why do so many Pitmasters prefer it today. To keep it simple, lump charcoal is real hardwood burnt at very low oxygen rates which turns the wood into charcoal. It is very different then briquette charcoal which is machine made using wood, fillers and…

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Best Lump Charcoal

You keep hearing about lump charcoal, but what is it and why do so many Pitmasters prefer it today. To keep it simple, lump charcoal is real hardwood burnt at very low oxygen rates which turns the wood into charcoal. It is very different then briquette charcoal which is machine made using wood, fillers and processing methods. Lump charcoal is more natural and provides more heat vs. briquettes, however it is more expensive and does not burn as long.

Today we have taken the top Lump Charcoal brands and put them to the test. We tested Jealous Devil Chunk Lump Charcoal, FOGO Premium Lump Charcoal, Kamado Joe Big Block and Cowboy Hardwood Lump. There were three main categories that we tested for.

  1. Lump Charcoal Size and Consistency
  2. Heat Output
  3. Burn Rate

After all of our testing, we felt that the FOGO Super Premium Lump Charcoal did the best in all three categories. Read on and we will explain why we picked these three key categories and how each charcoal brand did.

Ultimate Guide for Best Lump Charcoal : Angry BBQ’s Top Picks

byb2-table__imageTop PickTop PickFogo Super Premium
  • Perfect Sized Chunks
  • Great Heat Output
  • Long Burn Rate
byb2-table__imageRunner UpRunner UpKamado Joe Big Block
  • Good Size Chunks
  • Good Heat Output
  • Attractive Price
byb2-table__imageHonorable MentionHonorable MentionJealous Devil Chunx
  • Massive Chunks
  • Easy To Find
  • Attractive Price
byb2-table__imageWhy Mention? Why Mention? Cowboy Natural Hardwood
  • Available Everywhere
  • Affordable
  • Easy To Light

How We Tested For The Best Lump Charcoal

There are only a handful of items that really decide what makes a great lump charcoal. It has to be natural, preferably nice size chunks, good heat output and burns for a reasonable amount of time. While doing these tests, it was interesting to see how different each brands product actually was. I decided to set our test parameter on three of the four items above.

FYI: I tested all four of these charcoals at the same time on my Yoder 24×48 Charcoal Grill. It’s extremely large and made it easy to place a chimney worth of charcoal for each across the coal bed.

All four types of charcoal lit at the same time
All four charcoals were lit at the same time on my Yoder 24×48 Charcoal Grill. Great Grill to test charcoal.

1. Size and Consistency

Lump Charcoal Size and Consistency
Cowboy Lump Charcoal – Rather small in size

I personally prefer well sized chunks of charcoal and not the small potato chip size lump charcoal. I typically find small sized charcoal (pictured above) does not burn as long or provide as much heat output. It is a sign of quality. I like my charcoal chunks the size somewhere around a hardball. This typically burns well, is easy to light (especially in a charcoal chimney), burns hot and lasts quite a while.

2. Lump Charcoal Heat Output

testing charcoal heat output

Lump charcoal is known to create more heat output than briquettes. So we need to test and see which of these lump charcoals actually put out more heat. I used my Thermoworks surface temperature thermometer for this. The results were interesting.

3. Charcoal Burn Time

I value a charcoal that will not burn out quickly. This is where I’ll easily pay more for a charcoal that burns longer because a longer burn time = fuel savings. If I pay 20% more for a better charcoal, but I get 30% more burn time and good heat output, then it’s worth the premium.

For this test I was reverse searing cowboy steaks. I did the light smoke on my pellet grill and for the final sear I used the Yoder Charcoal Grill. I decided to light the charcoal quite early to get the grill sizzling hot. I kept all the vents wide open and I had the lid open for long periods of time. This method will burn charcoal quickly.

Watch Our Review

1. FOGO Super Premium Lump Charcoal Review

What We Like…

  • Perfect Chunk Sizes
  • Very Consistent
  • Great Heat Output
  • Long Burn Time

What Makes Us Angry…

  • Pricey
  • Sometimes Hard To Find

If you are looking for a premium charcoal option that can give your food a distinct flavor, our top recommendation is the FOGO Super Premium Natural Hardwood lump charcoal. Sourced from oak hardwood originating in Central America, this is dense charcoal that comes in large pieces. This is the charcoal of choice in many popular restaurants and I believe this is one of the best hardwood lump charcoals.

Fogo Super Premium Lump Charcoal
  • Size and Consistency: There chunk size is just perfect and extremely consistent. This piece pictured above was the most typical size at around 4″ wide and long. This size is perfect when lighting, which creates an equal startup better then the rest I tested.
  • Heat Output: I used a ThermoWorks surface temperature thermometer and the FOGO provided the most heat output in my Yoder 24×48 Charcoal grill. Kamado Joe Big Blocks was very close. FOGO provided high heat the fastest and had my thermometer read “high” every time which means above 572F.
  • Burn Time: Again this is where FOGO shined vs the competition. The FOGO lit up quickly and very evenly, much more so then all the rest. I didn’t think this would be so important but after experiencing it, I now want this with all my lump charcoal. After 2 hours and 40 minutes of burning the charcoal with all open vents and grill lids open regularly, there was a reasonable amount of charcoal left and it was still putting out a good heat.
  • Summary: Expensive, but does all of the above flawlessly.

In terms of quality, this is our pick as the best overall lump charcoal currently available in the market.

2. Kamado Joe Big Block Lump Charcoal Review

What We Like…

  • Good Size Chunks
  • Great Heat Output
  • Attractive Price

What Makes Us Angry…

  • Chunks Are Not As Consistent as FOGO
  • Some Smaller Chunks Throughout

We all know Kamado Joe has one of the top two players in the Kamado grill business. Kamado grills are coal burners so it is safe to say Kamado Joe knows what to look for in a quality charcoal for their grills.

Kamado Joe Big Block Measured
Nicely sized, but you can see the small pieces beside.

We like the Kamado Joe charcoal brand for a couple reasons:

  • Size and Consistency: Kamado Joe came in 2nd for size and consistency. The majority of the charcoal was the nice hardball size but there was enough small flinty pieces throughout. Not bad but more than FOGO.
  • Heat Output: Kamado Joe was in 2nd place for heat output as well. Just behind FOGO but still very close. I’m very happy with the heat output from Kamado Joe. I usually temped “High” on my surface temp thermometer which meant above 572F.
  • Burn Time: At the 2 hours and 40 minute mark, Kamado Joe still had a substantial amount of lump charcoal left. There was more than the FOGO, but to be fair, it took the Kamado Joe longer to get burning fully and evenly vs FOGO. Still a great long burning Charcoal.
  • Summary: Good price, good chunk size, decent consistency and good burn time.

Kamado Joe offers their charcoal in 20 or 30lbs bags which is nice. I wish more company would offer larger weight bags as you can go through the coal quickly. It saves a couple trips to the store or waiting for amazon deliveries.

This is a great Lump Charcoal and Kamado Joe’s price point makes this very attractive when comparing to FOGO Super Premium prices. Don’t be afraid of trying out Kamado Joe for your next Charcoal cook. It is one of our favorites.

3. Jealous Devil XL Chunx Lump Charcoal Review

What We Like…

  • Massive Chunks
  • Long Burn Rate
  • Good Price

What Makes Us Angry…

  • Some Chunks are Just Too Large And Not Chimney Friendly
  • Inconsistent Sizes

Our pick for the 3rd best natural lump charcoal goes to the popular, tried-and-tested All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal from Jealous Devil. These retain a great quality of wood and come mostly in hand-cut large chunks with very little dust in the bag. The wood in use is Quebracho Blanco which is sourced from Paraguay.

  • Size and Consistency: I gave Jealous Devil Chunx 3rd place for size and consistency. Yes there was some very large chunks, BUT some of the chunks were much too large. To the point that they would not fit well in a charcoal chimney or would not want to light evenly when using fire starters. Pictured below you can see how large one particular chunk was. Some chunks were also much too small for my liking. FOGO makes everyone look bad in this department.
  • Heat Output: Jealous Devil came in at 3rd for heat output which surprised me. Part of the problem was the inconsistent pieces did not allow even lighting. Eventually the heat output came up but it was a real 3rd to FOGO and Kamado Joe. I usually temped around 450F on my Yoder grates.
  • Burn Time: This is where Jealous Devil came in first. Not surprisingly when it didn’t burn as hot, and took a while to get an even burn going. After 2 hours and 40 minutes, there was a good amount of charcoal left.
  • Summary: Good price, large chunks but inconsistent. Worth a shot.
Jealous Devil Chunx Charcoal too Large

Overall it’s a great lump charcoal, but there is better out there. Price point s slightly less than Kamado Joe, but you do sacrifice quality. A good product at an attractive price.

4. Cowboy Hardwood Lump Charcoal Review

What We Like…

  • Affordable
  • Natural
  • Ummm

What Makes Us Angry…

  • Small Chunks and Inconsistent
  • Poor Heat Output

Cowboy Natural Oak and Hickory Lump Charcoal is a readily available charcoal at Amazon and many large retail outlets. To be hones, I don’t really know why. I picked up a bag about a year ago from Lowes and I wasn’t impressed. I bought another one for this comparison review and same low grade product.

  • Size and Consistency: Right out of the bag you can tell how Cowboy charcoal is going to perform. The chunks (if you can call them that, more like splinters) are small and there is enough ash/powder that dumped into my grill. When the pieces are that small they will light up quickly, but they will burn out quickly and not provide much heat.
  • Heat Output: Low. My surface temp thermometer measured the lowest temps on my grill. Around 400F was the max on my Yoder grates.
  • Burn Time: Out the fastest. After 2 hours and 40 minutes this Cowboy was done for the day.
  • Summary: It will work if there is no other charcoal for sale anywhere.

Best Lump Charcoal Education

Grilling with charcoal is a popular way to cook food that tastes and smells great. However, you might have been using lump charcoal without a full appreciation of how it can affect the flavors and aroma of your food. There are many different types of lump charcoal and understanding the fundamentals of this crucial ingredient can be a crucial first step towards choosing the right product for your needs.

Black and white view of charcoal

What is Lump Charcoal?

At its simplest form, charcoal is made by burning wood. It also looks like burned wood. However, there is much more to it than just that. Here is a guide on the ways to light a charcoal grill.

The process of making charcoal is complicated and is usually done in a kiln that does not contain any oxygen inside. Tree limbs and logs can be used for this, as can scrap wood from sawmills.

The wood is burned in the oxygen-free environment to create charcoal that is almost entirely made of carbon. The burning process, in essence, purifies the wood as volatile alcohol, water, and oils are all cleared away in the form of smoke. What is left behind is a natural, clean-burning fuel that contains no fillers or additives. This is why many BBQ enthusiasts swear by charcoal as their preferred method of firing up a pit.

Different Lump Charcoal Woods

The nature of the starting wood determines a lot of the characteristics of the charcoal. As manufacturers use different types of single woods and wood mixes to create charcoal, it is good to know what you can expect in terms of flavor and burning characteristics from different kinds of hardwood charcoals.

  • Oak – This is the hardwood that is predominantly found in a lot of lump charcoal mixes. The taste of oak charcoal is the taste most people would usually associate with grilled food. The signature taste is intense, a little bitter, and a perfect complement to the natural umami flavor of meats. If you are just starting out with charcoal grills, this can be a good first choice.
  • Hickory – Apart from oak, this is the other wood of choice if you are looking to enhance the natural taste of proteins with a strong, smoky flavor. The smoke from charcoal made out of hickory gives a strong flavor and aroma to the meat while also imparting that slightly bitter taste generally associated with grilled food. If you are looking to enhance the flavor of meats that have high fat content, like beef or pork cuts, this might be a great choice.
  • Apple – Another popular choice for grilling and smoking, charcoal made from applewood gives the food a milder, sweeter flavor and aroma. This is a salient choice if you want only mild flavor enhancement and would like to highlight the natural taste of the meat, your dry rubs, or your marinades. This is a versatile choice and can work with leaner proteins like fish and venison and also fattier meats like pork.
  • Cherry – This can produce a very unique sweet and mild smell and taste that is best used with proteins like fish, chicken, and duck. If you are looking to smoke or grill vegetables, this can work really well too.
  • Tree Mixes – Charcoal mixes can make use of multiple trees in varying proportions to create distinct flavor profiles. While you are likely to find a higher percentage of oak and hickory, a lot of lump charcoal products also use more esoteric mixes that you have to test to understand the complex flavors.

Cooking with Lump Charcoal

Lump charcoal can be excellent for grilling for several inherent properties. It lights up very quickly, owing to its high carbon content. This makes it an easier fuel to start than wood or briquettes. With the best lump charcoal, you can get a fire started in your pit in a matter of minutes.

Lump charcoal also makes it a lot easier for you to precisely control the cooking temperature. Due to its high reactivity with oxygen, simply controlling the air intake on your grill can allow you to control the cooking temperature. If you are looking for a quick and hard sear with roaring heat, lump charcoal can help you get there easily. If you are looking to cook something low and slow, adjusting the airflow can let you set lower temperatures. This is what makes lump charcoal so versatile.

Finding the Best Lump Charcoal

By now, you have an idea about how important choosing the best lump charcoal can be for your overall cooking results. Knowing how to find and choose the best lump charcoal can be crucial. 

The best charcoal comes from completely natural hardwood and does not contain binders, fillers, or chemicals. Expect to find evenly sized pieces and in the case of high-quality charcoal, large pieces. These ignite immediately, burn for a long time, and produce very little ash.

The lack of sparking is also a telltale sign of good quality lump charcoal. Charcoal made from lighter woods can burn very rapidly, creating sparks. This is not observed in the case of the best hardwood charcoals and the best natural charcoals.

It is also a good idea to think about the environment while purchasing lump charcoal and to choose a manufacturer that makes use of sustainable practices.

If you find a lot of dust and smaller, broken pieces in the bag or foreign objects like nails or dirt, it is a good idea to avoid such a product.

Lighting Lump Charcoal

It is not advisable to use lighter fluid or other firestarters while lighting lump charcoal. Doing this can introduce chemicals and impurities in the mix and leave an unpleasant taste in the food.

Here are a few reliable methods you can use to light your lump charcoal for the grill.

  • Using a heated air blower can be a good way to ignite the charcoal. Using this method, you can set the charcoal up in a pile first and then use the air blower to apply even heat to the entire pile. This can make the entire amount of charcoal ready at one go but it does require an electrical connection for the air blower.
  • Another method would be to use an electric starter, such as a Looftlighter Charcoal Electric Lighter and Firestarter. This can be left in contact with the charcoal for a few minutes and your charcoal will be ready. However, this does not allow for even heating of the entire pile of charcoal. It can take a little while for the entirety of the charcoal to heat up after you put it in the grill. Also, this too requires an electrical connection.
  • An easy solution that does not require any electricity is a chimney starter like the Rapidfire Chimney Starter from Weber. This is a simple device where you insert newspapers or kindling in the bottom and the charcoal on the top. All you need to do then is to set fire to the bottom chamber and wait for the charcoal on top to heat up to the right temperature. This is the way Jannah and I start our charcoal. The chimney starter is an inexpensive and simple must-have tool for charcoal fanatics. Personally I believe this is the best way to light lump charcoal.

It’s Your Call

There is profound variety in the market when it comes to lump charcoals with excellent products at every price point. Depending on the kind of results you want to achieve, it should be easy to take your pick from the options we discussed.

Our overall pick when it comes to the best lump charcoal you can find is the FOGO Super Premium Lump Charcoal. It provides the overall best chunk sizes and consistency, great heat output and a long burn life. As with all things, you pay for quality and FOGO runs their business on this model. Spend the extra money for once and try a top tier lump charcoal.

AngryBBQ Team

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